Posted On: March 31, 2009

Obesity Rate Higher in Schools Closer to Fast Food

A study that tracked millions of schoolchildren shows that children are more likely to be obese when their schools are close to a fast food joint, reports Roni Rabin of New York Times. The study is headed by economists at the University of California and Columbia University, and spanned almost a decade.

Enrico Moretti, one of the study’s authors, indicated that the study does not explain why students closer to a fast food restaurant are more likely to become obese, but affirmed the “credible and unbiased” causal effect it establishes between obesity and fast food.

Providing one more piece of evidence that fast food contributes to child obesity, this study has implications for public policy, said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. Neighborhoods and school district may choose to “zone out” fast food restaurants to protect their children’s health.

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Posted On: March 30, 2009

Teens Need Routine Screening for Depression

Nearly two million American teenagers are afflicted with depression, and major medical groups are now recommending that pediatricians give a simple but detailed questionnaire to all their teenage patients to try to detect this condition so that treatment can be offered.

About 1 out of 20 teens suffer from depression, which has been linked to lower grades, more physical illness and drug use, as well as early pregnancy.

Questionnaires can accurately identify teens prone to depression, plus there's new evidence that therapy and/or some antidepressants can benefit them, according to a report from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, published in the April 2009 edition of the journal Pediatrics .

Accompanying the task force advisory in Pediatrics is a research review saying there have been few studies on the accuracy of depression screening tests, but the tests "have performed fairly well" among adolescents. Treatment can help with symptoms of depression, say the reviewers from Kaiser Permanente and the Oregon Evidence-Based Practice Center in Portland, Ore.

But careful monitoring is vital since there's "convincing evidence" that antidepressants can increase suicidal behavior in teens, according to the Preventive Services Task Force report.

The new recommendation reverses what the task force said in 2002, when it reported that there was not enough evidence to recommend for or against routine screening of adolescents for depression.

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Posted On: March 27, 2009

New Questions about Drugs for Attention Deficit Disorder in Kids

Thirty-nine million prescriptions were written for American children in 2008 for drugs like Adderall and Concerta to treat attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), but new research suggests the drugs have only short-term benefit and may pose more harm to children than good if given for more than two years.

In a report in the Washington Post by Shankar Vendatam, scientists involved in a large federal study of the drugs sharply disagreed with one another about what the public should be told about their study results. One psychologist in the group of researchers said that parents needed to know that careful comparisons of the children in the study showed definite advantages of the drug treatment only in the first twenty-four months of use, and that longer use resulted in stunted growth, with drug-treated children typically an inch shorter and six pounds lighter than non-drug treated peers after 36 months of treatment. Another psychiatrist who participated in the study said long-term benefits were real but hard to demonstrate statistically.

The study is called the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children With ADHD (MTA). When its initial results were first published in 1999, a clear advantage was seen for behavior improvement in children who had taken the ADHD drugs in the first fourteen months of the study, compared to children who received only talk therapy or no treatment at all, and those results ignited a huge wave of popularity for the ADHD drugs with pediatricians and parents. But as the researchers have continued to follow the same children over the years, the advantage of drug therapy, at least as measurable statistically, disappeared.

Statistics, of course, do not necessarily apply in any one individual case. The take-away for parents is to be careful about any long-term use of drugs in their children and to continue to ask questions of doctors, and reach your own informed decisions about what to do.

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